Saturday, October 22, 2016

ICONSPEAK - Communicate via T-Shirt

A friend and I were browsing Pinterest the other day when we stumbled upon this shirt:

Though she kept scrolling through the site, I was interested in this article of clothing. After searching the web, I discovered that this is an ICONSPEAK shirt.  Learn more about it in the video below.

The idea is that travelers can communicate basic ideas and questions with locals when they do not speak the same language by using the symbols on the shirt. I am sure you can think of many situations in which this might be helpful; for example, pointing to the toilet on your shirt may help you communicate your desire to find a restroom when chatting verbally or attempting to use hand gestures with another person proves ineffective. ICONSPEAK has created shirts that have forty different icons on them, expanding the number of ideas the user can communicate by pointing to the symbols. The idea has been featured on popular media sites such as Today, BuzzFeed, and CNN.

In Visual Literacy, we have been exploring the use of symbols since our first month in the class. One of the things that we discussed is that symbols can have different meanings for different people depending on each individual's frame of reference. This shirt tries to avoid that problem by using universal symbols, or "a word or object that most everyone agrees on the meaning" according to this blog.

I am curious about the process the creators used for designing this shirt. How did they determine which ideas they would like people to be able to express through the shirt? How did they decide which symbols to use (because it's possible to draw multiple symbols for the same idea, such as a full versus crescent moon still signifying the moon or night)? Did people test the shirt by traveling to other countries to see if they could effectively communicate with others who do not speak the same language? Would effective symbols differ based on the region someone was traveling to? (For example, toilets look different around the world, so is it possible that a local may not understand a symbol based on the region?) Do people find that they are able to communicate the ideas that they need to using the symbols on the shirt, or do they wish they had different symbols?

If you have ever seen this shirt used, or even used this shirt (or shirts like this) yourself, please comment about your experience! I'd love to be enlightened! It seems like a great idea, but I want to know if it's effective in practice.

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